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Winter Brunch Menu

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Last summer I posted quite a bit about my experiment with the Whole30, a nutritional plan that is similar to Paleo: you’re supposed to eat mostly meat, vegetables, and healthy fats, along with some small servings of fruit. The idea is to drastically reduce your intake of sugar, only consuming sugar in its natural form (fruit). I got really enthusiastic about

eating the veggies

and

flank steak suppers

and

chicken with coconut curry

and I could go on… and maybe I will: since resolving to go back to a more Paleo-centered lifestyle a few weeks ago, I’ve dabbled more in tasty ways to make green beans and brussels sprouts, and I’ve fine-tuned my go-to-guac recipe. The results were pretty lip-smacking, so stay tuned for another Eating the Veggies post.

I did, vow, however, that when I entertain, I am allowing myself to create all the sugar and carb-laden concoctions I want. Aside from the joy of eating that stuff, it’s so much fun to cook! So here’s a winter brunch menu that I’ve put together for a few dear colleagues tomorrow on our day off:

  1. Baked Eggs with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Oregano, from School Night
  2. Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
  4. Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Pantry Items Needed
(In order of each recipe)

  • Olive oil
  • 28 oz crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter
  • Baking spray
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Honey
  • Parchment paper

Grocery List
(In order of grocery store layout)

  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • A bundle of scallions
  • Fresh oregano (or another fresh herb of your choice)
  • 3 firm pears
  • Bag of clementines
  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 4 kiwis
  • 4 bananas
  • 3 large lemons
  • Pomegranate
  • Heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parm
  • A dozen eggs
  • Frozen hash brown potatoes — Simply Potato recommended
  • Chocolate chips
  • Poppy seeds

Mix the Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones and the lemon poppy seed dressing a day head.

I make smaller scones using this pan from King Arthur Flour. I find that this pan results in really fresh, moist tasting scones.

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Instructions, Scones

  • Generously spray your scone pan with baking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut 6 T. of unsalted butter into small pieces and place in the freezer. Place 1/4 cup heavy cream in the refrigerator. Bring eggs to room temperature.
  • Peal and core pears. If you’re making smaller scones, like me, dice them instead of cutting them into chunks.
  •  Roast the pears for 20 minutes, until they are dry and slightly browned.
  • Slide the roasted pears onto a plate and place in the refrigerator to cool down to lukewarm. Turn the oven off.
  • In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt together.
  • Add the cooled pear, diced butter, heavy cream and 1 egg to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
  • Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and mix for a few more seconds.
  • Press the dough into the well-buttered pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk one egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the scones with the eggwash. Then sprinkle them with 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar.
  • Tightly cover the pan with foil and place in the freezer.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

  • Measure 3 T. fresh lemon juice and 3 T. granulated sugar into a bowl. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Slowly pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 3 T. honey until everything is blended thoroughly.
  • Mix in 2 teaspoons poppy seeds. 
  • Transfer to this convenient salad dressing bottle and put it in the fridge.

Morning of…

  1. Bake the scones straight out of the freezer for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. This is the time for large scones; I would check at the 15 minute mark to see if the smaller scones need less time to bake.
  2. While the scones are baking, prep the Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. While the hash browns are baking, prep the baked eggs
  4. While the baked eggs are baking, prep the fruit salad

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Instructions, Hash Browns

  • Spray a muffin tin with baking spray.
  • Squeeze the frozen hash browns with paper towels to make sure they’ll get super crispy.
  • In a large bowl, mix the bag of dried hash browns, 4-5 sliced green onions, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 2 T. olive oil.
  • Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees F. until crispy.

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Instructions, Baked Eggs
(Serves Four)

  • Chop 1/2 the onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Open your can(s) of tomatoes.
  • Bring 8 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream out to room temperature.
  • Chop the mozzarella into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Roughly chop the fresh oregano into 1/4 cup.
  • Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add 2 T. olive oil. Let the olive oil warm up.
  • Add 1/2 small yellow onion and sauté until translucent. This may take about 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in 28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes until the  mixture is thickened.
  • Season to taste and set aside to cool.
  • Place four large ramekins (the cookbook specifies 4 1/2 inch ramekins) on a baking sheet.
  • Spoon 5 T. of the tomato sauce and 1 T. of heavy cream into each ramekin. Top with the mozzarella and the oregano, dividing them evenly.
  • Once the hash browns are done cooking, break two eggs into each ramekin and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake about 15 minutes in a 350 degree F oven — you want the egg whites to be opaque and the yokes set, but still runny in the middle. The eggs will keep cooking a little after you take them out of the oven.
  • Let cool slightly.

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Instructions, Fruit Salad

  • Peel and segment 8 clementines
  • Chop 4 apples
  • Peel and dice 4 kiwis
  • Peel and dice 4 bananas
  • Cut pomegranate arils out of large pomegranate
  • Combine in a large bowl and top with dressing

Enjoy! Here’s to brunching on your day off.

 

 

Grateful Wednesdays

Kalyan Chakravarthy Half what? (CC BY 2.0)I’ve decided that hump day deserves a regular gratitude list. It’s the best way to slide into Thursday with my head screwed on straight, to pause in the middle of the week for a little putting-in of perspective. And I think there’s added value in listing nuggets of thankfulness  in order to share them — for me, that is. It feels like a subtle way of taking action on what I’ve been given, paying good things forward by making them known to you, dear reader, or by drawing attention to the less tangible things. And for me, making a personal gratitude list public helps me to
cement and augment a more general posture of thankfulness and abundance. I hope it reads less as, “good for me, now let me pat myself on the back” and more broadly as “the world is loaded with wonder.” So, thank you, and without further adieu, ten things, small and not so:

  1. Wait for it…chocolate chip and roasted pear scones, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. What a slightly unexpected, fruity, chocolatey, tart-sweet combo. While I’m at it, the entire Smitten Kitchen site — a self-contained gold mine of recipes, simple and scrumptious — and also, the mini scone pan I was gifted for Christmas. I never got around to making scones before I had this pan. It’s the little things.
  2. The people in this world who choose a hard path, knowing it’s hard, and knowing that there is no way around it. I’m thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King. I marvel at the clarity of his life’s mission, vision, and moral conscience.
  3. Winter headbands that keep things insulated on, say, an early morning/early evening commute involving lots of walking and waiting in the cold. If you’re reading, go ahead and grab yourself one! Just do it.
  4. The unique beauty of urban landscapes: the warm, orange glow of streetlights against a dark early morning sky, the steep rise of buildings, winding around the lake, the contrast between a bright train car and the sleeping wooden balconies outside. I could go on (I’ll spare you) but suffice it to say that Chicago is a looker, even in the thick of late January.
  5. A new vegetable soup recipe: Provençal Vegetable Soup, from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris. There are a couple of things about this soup that I find noteworthy: the addition of broken spaghetti noodles and halved green beans, the liberal use of chopped leeks, and last, but not least, the swirling-in-for-serving of pistou, a paste made of raw garlic, tomato paste, fresh basil, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.
  6. The practice of blogging. I think of it as a practice,  not unlike a yoga practice. It’s something I routinely turn to to clear my head, to challenge myself, to slow myself down and develop a deeper presence of mind and level of self-awareness. I’m thankful that blogging is something I can always return to when I have the time, that there’s now a foundation of entries on this here site to blossom into more entries. And more. It’s a good thing we bloggers collectively have going here, on WordPress. To think that the world of blogging didn’t exist a few years ago…
  7. New horizons/things to look forward to. For me, that includes a very hypothetical, much discussed and absolutely unprepared for trip to Ireland in the not so distant future. The longer it goes unplanned, the longer the gestation phase of my fervent anticipation — a blurry assortment of misty, rolling hills, warm pubs, and long, stretched out days of doing whatever the heck we please. One day we’ll get there.
  8. The space and time to be enjoyed by two adults who don’t have kids…yet. In other words, the absence of a heavy (yes, and beautiful) responsibility. This translates into gym time, leisurely cooking, the satisfaction of getting-stuff-done after work, whimsical and aimless conversations with my husband that have nothing to do with getting stuff done.
  9. The difference between writing for an editor and writing for myself. I say difference because I am grateful for both modes, so to speak. I find both challenging and rewarding in different ways. With writing for myself comes the joy/challenge of figuring out what I truly want to say, and also the spontaneity and lightness of having an idea strike my fancy and setting words to page. With writing for an editor comes more scrutiny, more research, a satisfying degree of clarity regarding form and style, and the meaty challenge of organizing ideas accordingly. With both comes the joy and freedom of returning, writing as much or as little as time dictates, but always knowing that writing is there.
  10. Befitting this rather nerdy post I will end with an entirely nerdy “nugget”: I am proud to say, I am very, very thankful for step aerobics. Yep, that’s right. Doing “mambo cha-cha-chas” and “corner knees” and “helicopter turns” astride a big plastic bench. At about 7:30 on a Tuesday evening when I’ve been alternately sitting and standing but not doing a whole lot of moving, it’s bliss, a way to get the blood flowing if you have an affinity for basic jazz dance moves and/or leanings toward the 1980s decade. Somehow, over the last three or four years I’ve morphed into what some would call “a stepper” — I just wish I had the wristband and the pastel-hued leg warmers to do myself justice. Oh well. When a girl’s gotta step, a girl’s gotta step. Er…woman, that is… (I have a pet peeve for grown ass women referring to themselves as girls. Oops.)

So that’s it. My list of small, and not so small points of gratitude to get me over the hump. I hope they serve you as well. As my dust-gathering Book of Common Prayer reads, “It is a good and a joyful thing, always and everywhere, to be thankful to God.” Amen.

In Praise of Peasant Food

Alan Levine Three SpoonsThere’s something especially delectable about humble ingredients mixed together in a big container and served up with a spoon. That is what comes to mind when I think of peasant food. Stratas, casseroles, gratins, puddings, soups… it all involves mingling an eclectic collection of ingredients, transforming their texture into something smooth, thick, creamy, and comforting, and digging in.

Recently I made two dishes that fall squarely into the category of peasant food: a cheddar cheese, scallion, and corn strata, and a rich pot of tomato soup. I highly recommend these recipes as you forge your way through the coming winter months. Peasant food translates into easy, effortless cooking and lip-smacking results that reheat well, stretching across the week. Peasant food is comfort food, and comfort food is winter food. Dig in below:

Dricker94 Corn Cropped

Corn, Scallion, and Cheddar Strata
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Butter
4 cobs of corn (approximately 3 cups)
A bundle of scallions (white and green parts)
8 cups bread cubes
2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 3/4 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Tools

9X13 inch baking dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Box grater
Whisk or fork
Plastic wrap

  • Generously grease your baking dish.
  • Saw the corn off the cobs and measure to see that you have approximately 3 cups. Chop the bundle of scallions and mix in a bowl with the corn.
  • Grate the cheeses and combine in a mixing bowl.
  • In another large mixing bowl, gently beat the eggs with the mayo, milk, salt, and pepper.
  • Cube the bread and measure it out into a large bowl.
  • In the baking dish, layer one-third of the bread cubes, the corn mixture, and the cheese mixture. Repeat this process twice and then pour the egg mixture over the strata. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or an entire day.
  • Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top.

Ross Pollack Tomatoes

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup heavy cream*

Tools

Large pot
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Wooden spoon
Small pot

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Fill a separate, smaller pot with water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for 7 minutes, then drain the orzo and add it to the soup.
  • Add the cream and simmer for 10 more minutes.

*If you want to give the soup a little extra love, Ina Garten recommends serving it with grilled cheese croutons 🙂

Comfort Food

jmv Magic Mushrooms? NOT CC BY 2.0There is something innately comforting about mushrooms. The comfort factor doubles when you add heavy cream and butter and white wine… am I right? Last Sunday I took the afternoon to chop and sweat and simmer mushrooms to my heart’s content, and then I poured some tender loving care onto a pot of herbed basmati rice — I can’t decide what I enjoyed more, the eating or the cooking.

I’ve been suffering from blogger’s block this past week. My attempts to embellish the sautéing of mushrooms with a nugget of spiritual wisdom or worldly advice have left me dry and desperate. Just being honest. It turns out, though, that cooking is quite the complimentary activity to writer’s block — working with your hands, it seems, gives your brain a rest. If you’re good at following directions, and you know how to spot a well-written recipe, things generally turn out as planned.

Not like some other things I’ve had on my mind lately. I’ve been reading (and writing) about education reform, how many of the same, stale reforms are recycled throughout the centuries, repeatedly putting teachers at the center of controversy. Also, I’ve been busy turning a year older, wondering why I’m not “farther” in life, why certain accomplishments haven’t landed in my lap yet, you know, run-of-the-mill ruminations. (However, I do feel loved, thanks to all your calls and texts). And I’ve dug deep into Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. The book is so full — of characters and settings and language — having already bounced from the sweet, romantic New York City life Theo shares with his single mother to the surreal interior of a bombed out art museum, to the lush, moneyed apartment of Theo’s friend Andy to the subdued, textured back room of an antiques dealer to the bright squalor of Las Vegas, I can’t predict where the plot will turn next.

So I embrace the comforting predictability of cooking, the way a pot of food on the stove sets a scene of its own. Enjoy 🙂

Creamed Mushrooms
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

1 pound of button mushrooms
4-5 tablespoons of butter
2 shallots, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and black pepper
thick slices of bread, buttered and toasted (optional)

Tools

Paper towels
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Mixing bowls
Liquid measuring cups
Large pot
Wooden spoon

  • With moist paper towels, wipe the mushrooms clean of dirt.
  • Slice the mushrooms and chops the slices into 1/4-inch pieces. This takes a while — enjoy some chopping zen 🙂
  • Chop the shallots and place in a bowl. Measure out the wine and the heavy cream in advance, for some mise en place — why not.
  • In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter on low heat and add the chopped shallots.
  • Sauté the shallots until they’re soft and limp over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, and possibly another tablespoon of butter if they seem dry. Cook until the mushrooms start to soften, stirring occasionally, over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Add the wine, and cover, cooking the shrooms about 5 minutes more.
  • Uncover the pot and continue cooking for a few minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Add the heavy cream and cook a bit longer, allowing the cream to thicken somewhat. (1/2 cup was too much for me; I’d start by adding 1/4 cup and add  little more to achieve a thick, creamy consistency without leftover liquid).
  • Serve on top of buttered toast or on its own, with rice.

Herbed Basmati Rice
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

2 cups basmati rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons minced dill
2 pinches black pepper

Tools

Measuring cups & spoons
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Mixing bowls
Large saucepan
Wooden spoon
Fork

  • Measure out the ingredients and mince the herbs.
  • Place the rice, water, salt, and butter in a large saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, give everything a quick stir, reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes. Watch to see that the mixture doesn’t boil over; you may have to temporarily remove it from the heat if the liquid bubbles up.
  • Once fifteen minutes have passed, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 5 more minutes.
  • Add the herbs and pepper and fluff it with a fork.

 

Gratitude and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

“Soup is a lot like family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.” — Novelist Margaret Kennedy

bourgeoisbee Roasted Tomato Red Bell Pepper Soup CC BY-NC 2.0 There’s something you gotta love about soup that’s predicated on one vegetable, simmered and softened, then pureed. It’s an act of gratitude, piling raw peppers into a pot and making the most out of them.

Lately I’ve wondered what it means to actively practice gratitude — not just ticking off  lists of thanksgivings but fully embodying a spirit of thankfulness, in the way that we go about our day, in the things that we desire, in the way our goals and hopes are oriented. It offers us a way out of changes in mood or circumstance, a way into feeling still, centered, and easy.

I’m grateful for the singleness of focus I’ve had lately with my writing. My family is all so supportive of my writing goals, which is motivating and sustaining; it makes me feel like less of an impostor when someone asks me what I “do.” It isn’t so much doing as it is thinking and then recording my thoughts. Which brings me back to my gratitude for soup. A steaming bowlful, topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, is a reminder to inhabit the moment more fully, to savor the flavor of a single vegetable, and be filled with warmth.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Makes 3 large servings
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white wine
6 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
A sprinkling of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Mascarpone cheese for garnish

Tools

Chef’s knife
Cutting Board
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Large pot
Wooden spoon
Immersion blender or blender/food processor

  • Slice the onions, mince the garlic, chop the bell peppers, and measure the thyme. Have the chicken broth, salt, and pepper out, with measuring cups nearby.
  • Swirl the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and cook on medium-low heat until they soften and turn a bit golden.
  • Swirl the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and cook on medium-low heat until they soften and turn a bit golden.
  • Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the two tablespoons of wine and cook on medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to 1 tablespoon.
  • Add the peppers, broth, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Cover the pot and simmer the peppers for about 30 minutes, or until they’re soft.
  • Purée the mixture using an immersion blender or a normal blender/food processor.
  • Serve warm (or chilled) with a scoop of mascarpone cheese in the center.

Something Simple

Alice Henneman Eggplant CC BY 2.0How shall I describe this roasted eggplant salad — it’s meaty and succulent, with big chunks of sweet eggplant, and it’s got bite, with tangy touches, including pickled red onions, diced feta, and a swig of red wine vinegar.

I wanted to write another post about Teacher Wars, the new book about the history of the teaching profession by Dana Goldstein that I just finished, but the lazy writer in me is having an easier time finding words for roasted eggplant.

What can I say — the history of teaching is intricate, enigmatic, and cyclical, with many of the same debates being tossed around for decades, and many of the same ineffective policies being stubbornly reinstituted in the name of innovation.

Roasted eggplant salad, on the other hand, is just plain good. There’s a saying that we write to experience life twice, which is especially apt for food blogging, I think. Here’s the recipe, adapted from Smitten Kitchen:

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants or 6 small, Japanese eggplants, cut into bite size chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup diced feta
1/2 cup pickled red onions*

Tools

Large mixing bowl
Spatula
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Sheet pan

*To pickle the red onion, dice half a medium red onion and place the pieces in 1/4 cup cold water mixed with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Drain it when you’re ready to add the pickled onions to the roasted eggplant.

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Combine the eggplant, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Spread the eggplant evenly on a sheet pan and roast it in the oven for about 25 minutes.
  • Remove the roasted eggplant from the sheet pan and allow it to cool in a large bowl… such as the bowl you started with. Then add the remaining ingredients. Eat with a fork or enjoy on top of toasted bread, rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil.
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